Virtual Private Networks Explained
VPN technology is a set of protocols which provide private, encrypted connections between devices and networks over the internet. When initially developed in the second half of the 90s, VPNs were seen as a security tool for big businesses; a secure way to allow sensitive data to transfer between head office and branches, or to and from remote workers and travelling businesspeople.
Today, VPN providers let users connect to the internet using remote servers, which are often numerous and located in data centres across the globe. The connection between the user’s device and this server is encrypted, making it difficult for Cybercriminals to trace activity back to a particular location or device. VPN’s can enable end-to-end encryption if multiple users communicate through the same VPN, thus helping to protect the transfer of sensitive data from the dangers of the internet.
Today, VPNs are one of the most cost-effective and accessible security tools used by large corporations, small businesses and individual consumers alike. In addition to the lauded security benefits of using a VPN (which we’ll get on to), a virtual private network can also be configured to allow for remote access to resources held on a local network.
Why should I consider using a VPN?
They help maintain privacy and security on high-risk, untrusted networks.
Public WiFi, while convenient, can be one of the riskiest ways to access the internet. Often such networks have been set up with minimal or no thought given to security, with security features like encryption turned off. Additionally, you could be sharing the network with anyone – unlike a home or work network, you can’t control who has access.
As a result of these vulnerabilities, Cyber Criminals often exploit weak public WiFi networks to target users using a number of different attack methods:
- Man in the Middle attacks. The attacker intercepts traffic and poses as a target entity in order to extract sensitive information.
- Trap networks. Here the attacker lures victims into connecting to an imposter WiFi network that might imitate a legitimate network nearby. To avoid these always verify the name of a network before joining (with or without a VPN).
- This involves the use of legal and legitimate tools called ‘packet sniffers’ to intercept traffic and gather data on the sites you’re visiting.
- Session Hijacking. If a hacker gains enough information from your internet traffic through ‘packet sniffing’ they may be able to gain access to your accounts without having to know your password. This malicious practice is known as ‘session Hijacking.’
Firstly, before connecting to any public WiFi network check that the network name is legitimate – ensure the network name matches the WiFi network advertised by the hotel, airport, restaurant precisely! Make sure you turn off the ‘auto-connect’ feature to avoid automatically connecting to potentially malicious networks.
Using a VPN will add a further level of protection to your internet traffic by ensuring that all traffic passing between your device and the VPN server is encrypted, making your internet activity useless and unreadable to those wishing to steal your data.
Additional protection against malware
Some VPN providers offer additional security tools such as web filtering and anti-phishing software. Keen to capitalise on the security-conscious nature of VPN users, such features offer some added protection against malware intrusion.
Keep your Internet activity hidden
A VPN conceals your device’s IP address behind a wall of encryption. This prevents the likes of ISPs, websites, cybercriminals and marketeers from watching your every online movement and also keeps your true geographic location hidden.
Gain access to ‘Geo-Blocked’ content and bypass censorship
VPN provider allows you to access the internet from a number of servers in various locations. When you access the internet through these servers, the server’s location effectively becomes your location allowing you to work around restrictions on where websites and content can be accessed from.
Securely access your office network remotely
Remote access and site-to-site VPNs are a great way to extend resources from one network to another or to individual users via the public internet in a secure way. Ideal for giving remote workers access to the resources and services they need or extending your network to new locations as your business grows.
Choosing the right VPN – Things to consider
With so many providers out there, choosing a VPN can seem like a daunting task. Below are some points to consider when choosing your business’ VPN.
- Where are the servers located? Do the server locations facilitate access to the services and resources you need to run your business? With most providers offering a number of server locations it’s highly likely they will…but it’s always best to be sure.
- What devices are supported? Ensure all your devices can access the VPN. Most providers support the most common device platforms, but again, it’s always worth reading the ‘fine print’ to be sure.
- Is the VPN in tune with your priorities? If security is your number one concern, seek out a VPN that offers added security features such as anti-malware filters and a variety of encryption types. Similarly, look for one with uncapped bandwidth if you’re likely to use the VPN for data-intensive activities.
- How many devices can be connected simultaneously?
- While VPNs are relatively affordable it can be tough making a cost vs features analysis to ensure you choose the one that’s right for you. Pricing models vary widely but a discounted monthly rate on longer-term contracts is very common, so commit if you can.
A VPN is a simple to use, and effective security tool that’s particularly useful for business users who often work away from the office via less secure networks. Why not consider adding a VPN to your business’ online defence strategy today.
We’re Cloud Nexus
We’re Cloud Nexus and we believe that technology should make life easier, not harder.
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